Breathe in the air

The Wonder Stuff – Lockdown Rocks!

April 21, 2020
5 mins read

As we move towards the lifting of lockdown and the eventual freeing of restrictions on movement and activities, GARY STEEL never wants it to end.


Breathe in the air

Has it really been four weeks? The New Zealand Government’s imposed lockdown in an attempt to suppress and stamp out the Covid-19 virus has passed by in a too-hasty blur.

While many of my contacts on social media appear to have been getting ever more frustrated and bored out of their gourds, even under lockdown I’ve felt that the world is moving too fast.

Perhaps the lockdown has played right into my instinctual introversion, but I sense that there are others who feel the same way: that the world is increasingly mad and out of control, and that making the madness come to a grinding halt for four weeks can’t be a bad thing.

Sensory deprivation? It’s all perspective

Over the past few years the insanity of human endeavour appears to have been accelerating. Never in living memory have we endured world leaders as blatantly idiotic as Trump and his cronies, and no matter how urgent the plight of the earth, the combined might of millions of protesters can’t seem to make a jot of difference when big business funds and controls governments.

Statistics apparently show that more people are comfortable and happy in 2020 than at any time in human history, but we’ve never had to confront climate change and the possible end to life as we know it before. (We have had to confront pandemics through history, have never had the technology to deal with them before now, but we’re still somehow fucking it up).

“Even under lockdown I’ve felt that the world is moving too fast”

Meanwhile, the digital landscape means that everything is available at all times. Social media is available 24/7 for those who want to cultivate pretend-friends, bicker endlessly, play devil’s advocate or promote their narcissist selves. Every book ever made can be dug out of the crevices of the internet, every movie can be streamed for a small subscription charge or sneaky (illegal) downloads can be found with a minimum of effort. The sheer overload of information on tap – much of it utter bollocks, but how do you tell? – is a mindwarp.

Even playing in a puddle can be hugely satisfying

And then there’s the physical domain. People seem to need to fill every single hour of the day with organised activities, both in and outside of work. And work, increasingly, is there to sustain the huge burden of oversized mortgages, as well as fund discretionary spending on crap that we don’t need, and which will inevitably end up in landfill. It fills a hole in our culture.

“How wonderful to see those vast stretches of nothingness called “motorways” empty of cars”

How wonderful to see video of those vast stretches of nothingness called “motorways” empty of cars. How wonderful to imagine that those work-slaves might be at home getting to know their kids.

It’s a world of too much, which is, ironically, too much of nothing much at all that’s worth anything.

Mmm… eating at home

It was depressing to learn that around 75 per cent of students in some South Auckland schools had no internet access at home, a fact that was hampering the plan to home-school during the lockdown. This startling fact is unimaginable to those of us who live and breathe the internet and have “all you can eat” broadband plans.

At the same time, it’s possible that some of these unfortunates are “connected” in a different way, to their whanau. Growing up in a typical nuclear family, that’s a kind of connection I’ve never experienced, and maybe – just maybe – it led to the very introversion that makes the lockdown so enjoyable, so grounding.

“Over-stimulus can be even more boring than none at all”

We certainly don’t need Paul Henry to lead the charge, but wouldn’t it be fabulous to rewrite the world as we re-enter the fray? What would you do if you could start from scratch? I could think of hundreds of things, but right now, I’m more interested in feeling that ground beneath my feet, breathing in the fresh salty air.

In observing those friends for whom the lockdown has been a protracted torture, I can’t help wondering whether they’ve ever considered the idea that over-stimulus can be even more boring than none at all. Enter an anechoic chamber and you’ll be confronted with something overwhelming; the sound/vibrations of your biological self. Nothing ever completely stops while we’re alive, but we don’t have to always move forward to enjoy living.

Tweak your creativity

We’re complete sluts when it comes to stimulus, but lowering our expectations of what we can do in a day doesn’t necessarily equate with going insane. Prisoners survive in solitary isolation, Stephen Hawking survived for many years in that broken body (albeit with an extraordinarily imaginative mind). Surely, being stuck at home isn’t such an ask. Chances are, your “bubble” is full of untapped pleasure and interest. Beyond that, there are worlds within worlds to discover on the internet.

“Your “bubble” is full of untapped pleasure and interest”

Bored? How could anyone be bored? I’ve always relished boredom. Anyone who loves terrible old monster/sci-fi movies from the 1950s (as I do) knows boredom well, because most of these filmmakers barely knew how to fashion a plot, build a set or hire an actor who could properly spell out his lines. And yet they’re fabulous. Watching international art movies can also be terribly boring. I’ve been practically catatonic in Film Society screenings over the years, but often find that I go away thinking about that boring film for days, where a Hollywood movie might instantly gratify me, only to be forgotten straight afterwards.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

Then there’s music. Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians was an incredibly instructive discovery for me. When I first heard this side-long piece as a teenager it seemed like it never changed from one minute to the next. Then I tried lying down and zoning out to it. Eventually, I realised that the tiny changes occurring within the repetition seemed to get bigger and bigger. This is subtlety. In contrast, contemporary pop music, 2020 style, is like one big orgasm throughout a song; everything is a climax. There’s so much emotional stimulation that there’s no room to think.

It’s all perspective. As the child of a working class family in the 1960s I was incredibly excited to receive 50 cents from an aunty for my birthday, and never had a birthday party. My 5-year-old had a huge party and received no less than four mermaids (her current obsession) and still complained that she’d not received a specific toy she’d seen advertised on YouTube. Which scenario is better? Who is happier?

“Tiny changes occurring within the repetition seemed to get bigger and bigger”

At home, I’ve got an endless supply of new music to listen to, way too many books I want to read, access to all the best magazines and newspapers online, access to conversations with friends and colleagues, good food to appreciate, and a family I can spend real time with. Oh, and a garden. And cats. It’s a cliché, I know, but what’s not to like?

Note: ‘Yeah, but what about the businesses suffering and the imperilled economy, and where’s the money going to come from in the inevitable recession?’ That might be your reaction to the piece above, and sure, I take your point. But my piece is about a state of mind, not the economy.




Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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